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Asylum System

Volume 725: debated on Monday 19 December 2022

We are taking immediate action to accelerate decision making and improve our asylum system by streamlining and modernising it, including by shortening interviews, removing unnecessary interviews, making the guidance more accessible, and dealing with cases more swiftly when they can be certified as manifestly unfounded.

The Home Office is placing vulnerable, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in hotels in local authority areas. It is directly commissioning those hotels and other services, because it knows that local authorities do not have the funding or capacity required. Will the Home Secretary finally admit that these vulnerable children are legally the Home Office’s responsibility, so that they are not left in legal limbo? Will she ensure that her Department takes a strategic approach that addresses the placement shortage, rather than its current ad hoc approach, and will she ensure that the police do all that they can to keep searching for those children who have gone missing and have yet to be relocated?

We take very seriously the position of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—and indeed of children, full stop. Safeguarding them is of the utmost importance to all authorities, and to the Home Office, when it comes to decision making. We will shortly look at the funding arrangement for local authorities’ support of these children, so that their needs are properly met.

Potentially one of the best parts of our asylum system is the safe route created for Afghans who helped British forces during the war in Afghanistan. They are often full of professional skills, speak good English, and could make a huge contribution to this country, if they were allowed to move on with their life. Will my right hon. and learned Friend give me a report on progress on getting more of these Afghan citizens out of hotels, and allowing them to get on with their life and to contribute to our society?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We support those who have come to the United Kingdom through designated schemes such as the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, and those people who supported allied forces in Afghanistan. Far too many of those Afghan nationals are being accommodated in hotels; on that, he is right. That is why we are moving very quickly. We are working with the Ministry of Defence, and are looking at all options, including, for example, service family accommodation, to properly accommodate a cohort of Afghans, so that they can move on with their life and settle peacefully here.

In 2020, the Home Office secured just 12 convictions a month for people smuggling into the UK. In 2021, that fell to eight a month and, in the first half of 2022, it fell to just three a month. The smuggler gangs have proliferated, and the dangerous boat crossings that put lives at risk are up twentyfold, yet the number of criminals paying the price for their crime has collapsed. Why has the Home Secretary totally failed to take action against the criminal gangs?

Let me point out who has totally failed to take any action against the criminal gangs: the right hon. Lady and the Labour party. I am really enjoying the shadow Home Secretary’s reinvention over the past weeks and months, but despite her trying to sound tough on illegal migration and people smugglers, Labour voted against our new offences for prosecuting the people smugglers who are causing the problem on the channel. Labour voted against tougher sentences that enable us to deport foreign rapists and foreign drug dealers. Labour would scrap our Rwanda scheme. Yesterday, the right hon. Lady did not even know whether illegal entry was an offence. The reality is that Labour has no plan whatever on illegal migration; it is against our plan, and all it wants is open borders.

The Home Secretary had no response on the total collapse in prosecutions, and she has had 12 years in charge. She says that the asylum system is broken; well, who broke it? Minsters have been running the system for the last 12 years, in which they have made things worse. Since the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 came into force, the number of people arriving by dangerous boat has reached a record high, so their legislation has not worked. The Prime Minister promised extra money for the National Crime Agency, but two days after he made that announcement, the Home Office does not know how much that money is, and the Treasury has not agreed anything. Can the Home Secretary tell us how much additional funding there will be for the National Crime Agency, and where it is coming from? On the Conservatives’ watch, a multimillion-pound criminal industry has grown along our border, and while Ministers faff around, gangs are making profit and people are drowning.

I am proud of the announcement that the Prime Minister made last week, setting out a comprehensive, methodical and compassionate approach to dealing with illegal migration and stopping the boats crossing the channel, dealing with the asylum backlog, responding to the cohort of people who have come here illegally from Albania, operationalising our Rwanda agreement and ensuring that ultimately we crack down on the people smugglers through better operational command on the channel. The right hon. Lady needs to get with the programme. I invite her to reverse her opposition to our plan, come up with a methodical plan and then let us have a proper conversation.